Higher Education: Standards

Department for Education written question – answered on 20th May 2020.

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Photo of Lord Taylor of Warwick Lord Taylor of Warwick Non-affiliated

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of whether students returning to university in the autumn will be able to receive the same standard of education as would normally be provided, and whether course fees should be reduced.

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade) (Minister for Women), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The government continues to work with the higher education (HE) sector to make sure that all reasonable efforts are being made to enable students to continue their studies to the best of their abilities. The HE sector is already working hard to prepare learning materials for the autumn term.

The government is working with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, professional bodies and the Office for Students (OfS), the higher education regulator in England, to ensure students continue to leave university with qualifications that have practical value. The OfS has published guidance for registered providers about how it will approach the regulation of quality and standards during the COVID-19 outbreak. This guidance is clear that standards must be maintained: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/guidance-for-providers-about-quality-and-standards-during-coronavirus-pandemic/. Actions that providers are taking now may continue to be required in the 2020-21 academic year if there is prolonged disruption as a result of the outbreak.

Universities offering high-quality tuition online will continue to charge fees. We only expect full tuition fees to be charged if online courses are of good quality, fit for purpose and help students progress towards their qualification. If universities want to charge full fees they will have to ensure that the quality is there. The government has made it clear that if providers are unable to deliver adequate online teaching then it would be unacceptable for students to be charged for any additional terms, which would effectively mean that they were being charged twice.

Whether an individual student is entitled to a reduction of their fees will depend on specific contractual arrangements between the HE providers and the student. Fee loans are being paid directly to the university at the start of the third term.

If a student is concerned about their education or about the steps that their provider has taken to respond to the situation, they should speak to their HE provider in the first instance. The government expects student complaints and appeals processes to be operated flexibly, accessibly and sympathetically by institutions in order to resolve any concerns. Students who are not satisfied with their provider’s final response can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to consider their complaint if their institution is based in England or Wales.

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